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The Safe Space #4 – living with ambiguity

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Welcome to the Safe Space – where managers can share their issues and gain advice from top learning & development consultants.

Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.

This time, the issue comes from a Manager in a UK-based children’s charity. The =mc consultants offer advice on a difficult issue which you may well identify with: dealing with change and ambiguity.

What’s the issue?

I have been a manager for almost two years in this organisation. I started off as a fundraiser, and then got promoted last year. I was so proud to finally become a manager – it’s something I’ve been working towards for a few years now. I have been focussing on developing my management skills, learning to look at the bigger picture and develop good relationships with the team I manage. My charity is brilliant – we do incredible work, and they really support their staff. They genuinely care and provide opportunities for progression. About 3 months after my promotion, I got to attend =mc’s Emerging Manager’s course, which really helped me gain confidence in my new role. I was really enjoying my role in supporting people, developing them, and taking the lead on my area of fundraising. But then this year, it has been so much harder. First, I had to put some of my team on furlough – and I found that quite painful and sad. I had no idea what the rules were, what I was allowed to say or not say, and what to do to keep them connected to our work. I was so worried about their wellbeing, how they would cope and hate the thought of them feeling like they’ve been forgotten or are missing out. Then, just as they all came back, we’ve had a restructure and I’ve had to lead consultation conversations. Thankfully, this didn’t involve redundancies but still, this was so far out of my comfort zone. I felt sick with worry about upsetting them again or getting the process wrong. At the same time, on a day-to-day basis, my team are looking to me for leadership: they want to know what will happen next, what our plan is, and how we are going to move forward. I just can’t see further ahead than the next couple of months as it feels like everything is still up in the air. I feel utterly clueless and a total fraud. How do I get my confidence back? Please tell me what to do!

What our consultants say:


Hello Fundraising Manager. I really feel for you – so the first thing I want to say to you is this: the things you are describing are absolutely normal, especially in 2020. That isn’t necessarily a big comfort but a good first step would be to stop beating yourself up. What you are describing is part of the learning curve of being a manager: moving from being competent (in fundraising and managing yourself) to learning a whole new set of skills (managing people). It’s great that you were gaining confidence before these new challenges – try reflecting on how you did that. You went from team member to team manager and would have also faced new tasks, responsibilities and challenges at that time too. What was your approach – and can that approach help you now? One of the issues in 2020 was that there are challenges that no one has dealt with before: furlough being one of them. As a manager you would not be expected to have the technical know-how about these things. But you are expected to ask for help when you need it. Use your resources: ask HR for help. If you don’t have HR, check out government advice such as Acas or .Gov. Ask your line manager for advice or even your peers. Being clueless is not such a problem when new things come along – the trick is to know when to look for help and where to get it from.

question marks and blank paper


Dear Fundraising Manager, what a horrid time you have had, I’m sorry to hear things have been difficult for you, your team and your charity. As Laura says, it is an all-too-common situation this year. We all really hope things will improve in 2021. Unfortunately change and ambiguity are likely to continue to feature in your career as a manager. Therefore, you could see this as an opportunity to learn about handling the feeling of being uncertain. It is inevitable that you will come across tricky situations in the years to come, where you don’t have all the answers so learning to tolerate that is a real skill. We all like to be in control, but there are times when control isn’t possible. This is not a personal failure. Instead, try gaining control of your responses and see if you can find a more productive thinking process. You say your charity is supportive, so I wonder if you have some room there to try new things? Maybe now is a chance to get creative – can you find new ways of working, improve processes or develop your team to make them more resilient to future changes? That way you are taking action with something and taking control where you can.  Hope this helps.


Dear Fundraising Manager, I think you’ve done a brave thing in reaching out and being super honest about how all this has made you feel. It strikes me that you must be very emotionally intelligent to be so self-aware and willing to do something about the situation. Sadly, not everyone recognises their flaws or limitations – and so they can’t work on them. You absolutely can, and you can build confidence again by recognising where you have strengths already and where you need to work on things. You seem empathetic to the way your team have been feeling – and great managers know being a leader is all about people. This is a strength you can work with and build on. You have a good relationship with the team, so remember that and lean on that. They will forgive you for not knowing everything, so long as you are showing you are doing your best to move forward. Be yourself, and talk about your concerns but also be solutions-orientated. Tell them you know it’s been tough for them, and you have found that hard too. Tell them you want to see the team coming back together and include them in developing your plans. Share that the future is uncertain, and you know this is worrying. But at the same time, start with what you do know: set priorities for the next three months. Get them, and yourself, used to constantly reviewing the situation – what priorities are changing or emerging? These small steps will show your team that you are an authentic, emotionally resilient manager and in turn that will increase your confidence. You don’t need to be perfect to be a great manager – just focus on people and what they need from you.

What’s next?

If you’d like to explore ways of handling for situations like this, take a look at the Resilience and Motivation training programme.

You can also contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.

Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on While we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...